With many Thomson High School students making the move from graduation to a career in the armed forces, school officials are considering implementation of a program to help them along the way.
Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps, or JROTC, is a high school version of the college program that teaches students citizenship, patriotism and leadership skills along with fundamental military knowledge.
The McDuffie County School System has been placed on a waiting list to begin JROTC at THS. That program becoming a reality is something for which Superintendent of Schools Mark Petersen is pushing hard.
"I think it would be a great boost, discipline-wise, to our kids," he said. "Bottom line is, we've got several going into the military after school, and for them to have a Junior ROTC program would give them two steps ahead. We've been working and trying to get that done."
Dr. Petersen said the earliest the elective class could start would be in the 2007-2008 school year. He cited many nearby high schools - such as Jefferson County, Burke County, Richmond Academy and Harlem - that already have JROTC programs as further evidence that Thomson needs one.
"They're all around, and for us not to be a part of that is ... we need to be a part of it," Dr. Petersen said.
And someone who is helping to further the cause on behalf of the school system is Thomson's own DeWayne Patrick, a retired three-star Army general.
"I think an ROTC program for any high school is a definite plus," Lt. Gen. Patrick said. "We've got a tremendous number of men and women who are looking for a place in life, and this ROTC program that they would enter in high school would be a good start because it could perhaps lead them on to a military career."
Lt. Gen. Patrick - who was a product of the ROTC program at North Georgia College - said he has been in contact with the Training and Doctrine Command at Fort Monroe, Va. about getting the program started at his high school alma mater. He said giving students a jump start is the best thing for their future.
"It was not easy at first," he said of his experience in college ROTC. "If I had had it in high school, it would have been a whole lot easier for me to adjust and adapt to."
Another aspect of the program that could reap benefits for McDuffie County is funding, Lt. Gen. Patrick said.
"If we are, here in Thomson-McDuffie County, fortunate enough to get an ROTC program in our high school, it will mean a tremendous amount of federal funds will come our way to support that operation," he said. "But that's not nearly as important as what the ROTC will do for them when they go on off to college because the college fund will be available to them."
Dr. Petersen agrees.
"It would be good for our kids, and anything that's good for kids, that's what we want to try to do," he said.